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House authorizes arming Syrian rebels to fight ISIS

Lawmakers approved the amendment by a 273-156 vote after six hours of debate.

The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday afternoon to greenlight President Obama’s controversial proposal to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels in effort to defeat the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Lawmakers approved the amendment by a 273-156 vote after six hours of debate. The amendment, which includes no new money to pay for the operation, was then incorporated into a larger spending bill that will fund the U.S. government through Dec. 11 and avoid a partial government shutdown.

"As we continue to take targeted military action against ISIL terrorist targets, today’s vote is another step closer to having the authorization to train and equip vetted elements of the moderate Syrian opposition so they can defend themselves against, and ultimately push back on, ISIL forces in Syria, while creating the conditions for the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all," Obama said in a statement Wednesday evening. ISIL is an another acronym for the terror group. 

That vote on the entire Continuing Resolution passed 319-108 and will now move to the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Wednesday evening that the Senate would vote on the legislation Thursday. The Senate will begin debate on the bill at 1 p.m. and a vote would begin later in the evening. Reid has said he expects the bill to pass in the upper chamber of Congress. 

The House vote on the final Continuing Resolution was divided among party lines. Fifty-three Republicans and 55 Democrats voted against the bill, while 176 Republicans and 143 Democrats voted in favor of it. 

While leaders of both parties back Obama’s goal of destroying ISIS, some lawmakers have expressed concerns that weapons given to the rebels could end up in the hands of terrorists. Others say Obama’s plans do not go far enough while some are concerned about the U.S. getting embroiled in yet another war.

“The amendment provides few limits on the type of assistance that our government may commit, and the exit out of the civil war is undefined,” said Republican Rep. Justin Amash in explaining his “no” vote on Facebook.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith argued in favor of arming the rebels on the floor shortly before the vote. The Washington lawmaker said that while it’s “not a perfect plan,” if ISIS can go into Syria and “have a safe haven where they can go without being pressured, it’s going to be very, very difficult to defeat them.” Smith said the U.S. must “find a local force that will fight our fight.”

At a weekly briefing on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – who was against the Iraq War – said before the vote that while she’s in favor of Obama’s plan, “it’s not a whip operation. Members will do what members are comfortable of doing.” House Speaker John Boehner said Obama’s request is “a sound one,” but added, “I think there is a lot more we need to be doing, but there is no reason for us not to do what the president asked us.”

The U.S. has already engaged in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. U.S. Central Command announced on Wednesday that it conducted seven airstrikes in Iraq on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those attacks destroyed ISIS vehicles, ground units and a small boat re-supplying the group’s forces. CENTCOM said it has launched a total of 174 airstrikes in Iraq since the U.S. intervened on Aug. 7.

Despite an acknowledgement on Tuesday by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey that sending U.S. ground troops into Iraq is a possibility, President Obama insisted on Wednesday that U.S. troops won’t have a combat role in Iraq.